Sep 13, 2012

[Theater] The Phantom of the Opera (Manila)

It remains a major pain that travel to the US is such an ordeal between the difficulties of the visa application process and of course the actual costs of traveling there. And once you're there it'll be another challenge entirely to make sure you can map out time in your trip to end up in New York AND snack tickets for a major Broadway show! Thus the theater-lover's eternal dilemma, at least when you live outside the US.

But more and more, it seems, touring theater groups (mostly based out of Australia, I feel) have started to make Manila a regular stop during their regional tours. And that's a very good thing indeed since it means more theater options without the need to leave the country, even if just for a place like Singapore or something.

Now this is the first time that I've patronized one of these visiting acts since I've always been skeptical if our theaters can actually support the technical requirements of some of these shows. Productions like Mamma Mia! have minimal requirements, but then bigger shows tend to need more. But my fears about how well we'd manage a show as technically complex as The Phantom of the Opera were quickly dispelled once the curtains came up and the show began.

Synopsis: The Phantom of the Opera is a Broadway musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart. It goes without saying that the show has won many awards over the years including the Tony award for Best Musical in 1988 and the 1986 Olivier Award as well. The production in Manila was directed by Harold Prince and involves the sets from the South African production and some of the cast. The run started on August 25, 2012 and was extended to end on October 14, 2012 at the CCP Main Theater.

For those who have never heard of the show before, let's go over the basics. The play starts with an auction of artifacts from the Opera Populaire. As the various exhibits are presented, we're slowly drawn into the past to explore what had happened so many years ago. Thus we go to 1881 during the heyday of the opera house, which has just been sold to Firmin (James Borthwick) and André (Jason Ralph). And while in the middle of a rehearsal involving Carlotta (Andrea Creighton), the prima donna of the house, an accident takes place that everyone blames on the supposed Phantom of the Opera.

With Carlotta refusing to go on with the show because of the threat of the Phantom, the group find themselves without a star for the show. At least not until Madame Giry (Rebecca Spencer), the ballet mistress, recommends that they give one of the chorus girls, Christine Daaé (Claire Lyon), a chance. Supposedly she has been "well-trained" but she does in fact wow them all and carries the performance that night. Also watching the performance is Raoul (Anthony Downing), once a childhood friend of Christine's who is now the Vicomte de Chagny. What people do not know is that the "Angel of Music" that has been coaching her in terms of her singing is none other than the Phantom of the Opera (Jonathan Roxmouth) himself.

The Phantom of the Opera is one of those highly technical shows that pretty much defined my bias against watching touring groups visiting the Philippines. While I have never seen the show before, I had read enough to know that the show involved quite a number of complex moving parts. And how to possibly translate those elements into a touring show that can travel the world is quite the challenge. But as the show progressed I never stopped getting surprised by how they had managed to bring those technical elements here. Thus we had the grand chandelier rising into the air, the occasional flash of pyrotechnics and the very famous underground river sequences.

I still can't figure out how they made that boat move! And yes, I'm trying NOT to search for the answer online.

Now the music behind The Phantom of the Opera was always a bit tricky, in my opinion, since it naturally draws from the world of opera itself/. Thus many of the songs do challenge one's vocal range and also makes understanding some of the songs that much harder. This is especially true whenever Carlotta is onstage since her very impressive set of pipes overwhelms pretty much most of the cast who may be singing together with her.

The overall production was just out of this world. Each performance was impressive in so many ways and how quickly they'd  managed to turn the sets from one to another. Through creative uses of various curtains, it was interesting to know how we were brought to different parts of the opera house from Christine's bedroom to the business office of Firmin and André. And yes, I totally loved the door in that particular set arrangement.

The dance numbers were as beautiful and majestic as I had hoped, especially my ever favorite song of Masquerade, that I had enjoyed since I had seen the movie version of this show. And seeing it on stage was even better than that given the diverse costumes, the stairway set and the bigger mystery of how soon they had cleaned up the stairs to transition to the next scene. These are precisely the sort of things that define the magic of theater.
My only complaints, if ever, would be about the venue itself given the CCP's air-conditioning both outside and inside the theater can barely support the size of the venue. Thus I have to admit that I broke into a sweat while waiting for the house to open and I didn't exactly get that much relief once inside. Plus there was the quirky rule banning the use of digital cameras anywhere in the theater area and not just the house and yet camera phones and tablets were fair game.

The Phantom of the Opera in Manila was a most magical experience and one that has helped me respect what our local theaters can support. This definitely won't be the last show that I'll watch, depending on which production next decides to drop by. Thus the show gets a full 5 fabulous candelabras coming out of the ground out of a possible 5.

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